The QUO Podcast: Ep 9 - Jessie Tu on writing unapologetically and why she doesn’t live to be liked
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;
Story

The QUO Podcast: Ep 9 - Jessie Tu on writing unapologetically and why she doesn’t live to be liked

Stories/793 , Issues/Multiculturalism , Issues/Arts & Culture , Issues/People of Colour , Issues/Women
Sydney NSW
29th Apr 2021
The QUO Podcast: Ep 9 - Jessie Tu on writing unapologetically and why she doesn’t live to be liked

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Taiwanese Australian writer, Jessie Tu, talks to us about how she uses writing to examine her own loneliness and sense of shame. For her, writing is about making sense of these seemingly overwhelming states and recognising that they are not all of who she is.

In this episode, we speak with writer and journalist Jessie Tu. She has taught at refugee camps in the Middle East, volunteered with Australian Aid in the Solomon Islands, travelled to complete writing residencies in the United States and currently works at Women’s Agenda.

In the early 1990s, at the age of four, Jessie and her family emigrated from Taiwan to suburban Melbourne.

When she started kindergarten, she was not yet fluent in English. She has a visceral memory of being shamed by her teacher for the way she completed a colouring book exercise.

“I remember the teacher holding up my book and telling other students not to do what I did. I can think back to many moments in my schooling where teaching have publicly shamed me,” Jessie says.

She acknowledges that this bodily shame is something she still carries around with her. Jessie felt a palpable sense of alienation at not yet being able to construct sentences in English because she didn’t know how to spell.

“It made me really scared because I felt I wasn’t able to show people that I was just as valid and intelligent as the rest of them. Just because I didn’t have the English language, didn’t mean that I was dumb,” she asserts.

When we move to talking about her writing skills in the present, Jessie is quick to assert she doesn’t see herself as a ‘talented’ writer.

“When you have a love for something, it can come across as talent in the eyes of others. When you love something, you want to do it all the time and when you do something all the time, invariably, you become very good at it,” she explains.

Jessie’s debut novel, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2020 and is on the 2021 Stella Prize Longlist. Given that the metric upon which literature is measured is so wide and varied, she has only ever written on her own terms.

“I decided to ask myself what I can contribute in my own voice, and it doesn’t have to be comparable to anyone else’s work,” she says.

The central protagonist of Lonely Girl is Jena, a music prodigy, sex addict, and in the eyes of some critics, a ‘selfish’ and ‘unlikeable’ character. To Jessie, this represents a double standard laced in misogyny.

“When a man operates his life on his own terms, he is never called selfish, He is someone who is in control, he’s rewarded and celebrated for having command over his life. When a woman does that, it’s a bad thing. We are still attacking a woman for setting her own terms in her own life,” she says.

Jena also seems to display the kind of existential loneliness that is not easily quenched by human contact, and Jessie is candid in acknowledging that she too experienced severe bouts of loneliness in her twenties. She wrote Lonely Girl to examine her own loneliness through Jena and make meaning of it.

“I don’t know if my relationship with loneliness is better. I think I’m better at recognising it and knowing that it will post. I am very fortunate, and yet still there are days when I feel deeply lonely,” she says.

For Jessie, the act of writing is, at its core, about dispelling shame.

“Writing is about extracting the shame from my chest and putting it on the page, and hopefully making sense of it when I see that this is something that I went through, but it isn’t who I am,” she says.

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